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LIVE — 'Hundreds' still trapped under Mariupol theater

March 18, 2022

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky says "hundreds" who sheltered in a theater in Mariupol are still trapped. Meanwhile, more than two million refugees have now crossed into Poland. Follow DW for the latest.

The bombed theater building in Mariupol, where hundreds are believed to still be trapped
The bombed theater building in Mariupol, where hundreds are believed to still be trappedImage: Azov Battalion/AP/dpa/picture alliance
  • The World Food Program says Mariupol in urgent need of supplies
  • The UN migration agency says some 6.5 million people have been displaced inside Ukraine
  • Russian missiles strike near Lviv airport
  • Ukraine's leader says 130 people rescued from bombed Mariupol theater
  • Western nations accuse Russia of using UN as propaganda during security council session

This lives updates article is now closed. For the March 19 edition, please go here.

Joe Biden speaks with Xi Jinping about Russia support

US President Joe Biden spoke with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Friday by video call and warned China against giving Russia military and economic assistance.

According to the White House, Biden laid out the "implications and consequences" of Chinese assistance to Russia. An administration official said that Biden pointed to the economic isolation Russia has faced as a result of Western sanctions in his discussion with Xi.

Xi urged the US and Russia to negotiate and accused the US of provoking Russia by shipping arms to Ukraine.

Scholz and Spanish PM urge solidarity

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said the Russian invasion of Ukraine should be a turning point for the European Union.

Speaking alongside Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Berlin, Scholz said it was vital for the EU to strengthen its defense capability and take decisions in the energy sector. 

"The war in Ukraine means a turning point for the EU as well," Scholz said as the pair met in Berlin.

"We call on President Putin to immediately stop the to immediately cease hostilities and withdraw his invading forces from the country." 

"As before, we will continue to support Ukraine, which so courageously opposes the aggressor," said Scholz.

He said this also meant "that we will take care of the humanitarian plight of the people there."

Sanchez said that Putin was the sole author of the war. He also underlined the need to keep energy prices from spiraling out of control ahead of a meeting of European leaders next week.

"For Spain, it is very important that the EU summit take urgent action," said Sanchez. 

World Food Program: Situation in Mariupol is dire

World Food Program Director Martin Frick spoke to DW about the deteriorating situation for civilians in Ukrainian cities like Mariupol, which are being besieged by Russian forces, as well as the consequences for the global food supply without Ukrainian wheat.

"The situation is Mariupol is particularly bad. We are trying to get access to bring food in," said Frick, saying the need for humanitarian aid was "urgent"  but that "there hasn't been a possibility to bring food in with a humanitarian convoy" due to constant Russian shelling.

Asked about supposed humanitarian corridors that Moscow promised it would respect, Frick said "we have yet to see them."

"We are delivering food to cities that are not entirely encircled. We have now built up food stocks for more than 3 million people for 30 days. But we are still waiting and pressing for humanitarian corridors, particularly for Mariupol."

Frick also spoke about how Ukraine's role as a breadbasket for the world was affecting global food supply and prices: "While we speak, 20% of the 2021 wheat production is still stuck in Ukraine and more than 40% of the corn production... the global market price for wheat is going through the roof. We have 66% higher prices now than a year ago and 33%...only since the Ukraine war started. So this is directly affecting some of the poorest countries in the world and is pushing families in these countries towards poverty and hunger."

Some 6.5 million internally displaced in Ukraine

The UN migration agency says nearly 6.5 million people have been displaced inside Ukraine, in addition to the 3.2 million who have already fled the country.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicates that, within 3 weeks, Ukraine is on its way to the levels of displacement from Syria's devastating war.

That conflict drove some 13 million people from their homes internally and to other countries.

The findings were presented in a paper issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Projections found that "over 12 million people are estimated to be stranded in affected areas or unable to leave due to heightened security risks, destruction of bridges and roads, as well as a lack of resources or information on where to find safety and accommodation.''

The document cited the IOM figures as "a good representation of the scale of internal displacement in Ukraine — calculated to stand at 6.48 million internally displaced persons in Ukraine as of March 16.''

Refugees from Ukraine arrive in Germany

Macron asks Putin to allow aid to reach Mariupol in phone call

French President Emmanuel Macron told Russia’s President Putin in a phone call that he had "extreme concern" for the civilians in Mariupol, Macron’s office said.

The two leaders spoke for an hour, during which time Macron urged a "a lifting of the siege and humanitarian access" to the city.

During the latest of several telephone calls between the two leaders since Russia's invasion began three weeks ago, Macron "again demanded the immediate respect of a cease-fire" in Ukraine, the Elysee Palace said.

The Kremlin characterized the call somewhat differently, saying that Putin used it to accuse Ukraine of "war crimes" while promising that the Russian leader would do "everything possible" to avoid civilian deaths.

"Attention was drawn to the numerous war crimes committed daily by the Ukrainian security forces, in particular massive rocket and artillery attacks on the cities of Donbas," the Kremlin said of the call.

The UN has said that at least 780 civilians have already been killed in Ukraine since the invasion began, as Russian bombs have also been dropped on hospitals and shelters.

Russia using UN to spread propaganda, say Western nations

Russia has been using the UN Security Council to spread disinformation over the invasion of Ukraine, according to six Western member states.

The allegation was made at a council meeting called at Russia's request to discuss its allegations that Ukraine is developing biological weapons.

"Russia is once again attempting to use this council to launder its disinformation, spread its propaganda, and justify its unprovoked and brutal attack on Ukraine," the six countries with seats on the council said in a statement read out by US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

Thomas-Greenfield was accompanied by representatives of France, Norway, Albania, Ireland and Britain.

The council held a meeting on the same issue last week, also at Russia's request. At the time, Western countries accused Russia of spreading conspiracy theories. 

Critics say the Russian allegations could be subterfuge to create a pretext for using such weapons themselves.

"We continue to believe it is possible that Russia may be planning to use chemical or biological agents against the Ukrainian people," said Thomas-Greenfield.

Izumi Nakamitsu, UN high representative for disarmament issues, last week said his department had no knowledge of a Ukrainian biological weapons department or a mandate to carry out an investigation.

UNHCR: Number of fleeing Ukrainians could rise exponentially

The UN's refugee agency is warning many more Ukrainians could become refugees.

"In addition to the 3.3 million who have become refugees in neighboring countries, we could be looking at potentials of many more millions becoming refugees," Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams, Head of Global Communications at the UNHCR, told DW.

"I think we fear what may happen in the coming days and weeks as we've seen cities that we thought were safe havens, it seems, are not necessarily safe," she said.

Her warning comes as the agency said humanitarian needs are increasing exponentially.

"What we're afraid of is are we going to be able to keep up with the numbers of people that are flowing out of the country? And that will be in need of greater and greater support," Ghedini-Williams said.

She said refugees need more than food, water, and shelter, "there's a great deal of trauma that we will have to be able to support."

So far, more than 3 million people have fled due to Russia’s invasion of the country. At least 200,000 of these have arrived in Germany seeking refuge. According to the UN, around half of all Ukrainian refugees are children.

Dutch, Germans send Patriot missile system east

The Dutch government has said it will send a Patriot missile defense system to Sliac, Slovakia, as NATO moves to strengthen air defenses in Eastern Europe.

"The cabinet considers it of great importance to make an active military contribution to strengthening the deterrence and defense of the NATO alliance," Dutch Defense Minister Katja Ollongren said in a statement

"The deteriorating security situation in Europe because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine makes this contribution necessary."

Meanwhile, Germany will send two Patriot systems to Slovakia, the same statement said.

The Patriot is a surface-to-air guided weapon system that can be used to take out aircraft, helicopters, and high-speed ballistic and cruise missiles. This is possible up to a height of 20 kilometers (about 12.5 miles) and a distance of 60 kilometers. 

Zelenskyy: Hundreds still trapped under Mariupol theater

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said rescue work was ongoing at the site of a bombed theater in Mariupol from where 130 people have so far been recovered alive.

In an online address, Zelenskyy said shelling by Russian forces continued to prevent the authorities from establishing effective humanitarian corridors to the encircled port city in southern Ukraine. He said that hundreds of people are believed to still be trapped.

Officials and observers have noted that people in Mariupol are on their "last reserves" of food and water, claiming Russia is using starvation as a tactic of war.

A Ukrainian lawmaker has also said that the theater was clearly marked from above as a shelter for women and children, accusing Moscow of bombing it on purpose.

Putin appears at stadium to praise Russia's war

President Vladimir Putin praised the war waged on Ukraine as a "heroic" mission by the Russian army during a patriotic rally at a Moscow stadium on Friday.

Putin spoke before tens of thousands of people at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, where people waved the Russian national flag and flags bearing the letter Z, a pro-war symbol.

Putin said all of the Kremlin's plans for Ukraine would be implemented. However, Russian state television curiously cut Putin's speech mid-sentence, switching to footage of patriotic music.

He was cut while saying: "It so happened that the beginning of the operation coincided by chance with the birthday of one of our outstanding military..."

The Kremlin later blamed a technical glitch for the interrupted transmission.

As Putin prepared to take the stage, speakers had praised him as fighting "Nazism" in Ukraine  the pretext used by Moscow for staging its invasion.

The rally was held to celebrate the 8th anniversary of Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea on March 18, 2014.

In an ominous speech on Wednesday, Putin likened opponents to "gnats'' who try to weaken the country at the behest of the West.

Ukraine peace talks: Can Russia be trusted?

He unleashed a diatribe at those who oppose his course and spoke of the "necessary self-purification of society."

Biden and Xi set to talk about China's support for Russia

US President Joe Biden is planning to call his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Friday. While the phone call has been on the agenda since November, relations between Beijing and Moscow in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine are likely to take center stage.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the call offers the chance "to assess where Xi stands" on the war. She added that Biden will question Beijing's "rhetorical support" and "absence of denunciation" over the invasion.

China is trying to walk a fine line between antagonizing its Russian partners and disrupting its economic ties with the west. Xi's government has tried to distance itself from Russia's actions — for example abstaining from a historic UN vote to condemn the invasion — but has not gone as far as condemning Moscow.

Global financial institutions warn of economic fallout

A group of leading financial lenders, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and Council of Europe Development Bank among others, have released a statement warning of the "extensive" economic fallout from the war in Ukraine.

"The entire global economy will feel the effects of the crisis through slower growth, trade disruptions, and steeper inflation," the statement read, adding that the conflict was hitting energy and food supplies resulting in rising poverty.

Representatives from the global institutions met on Thursday to discuss the impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine around the world.

"In addition to the devastating human catastrophe unfolding in Ukraine, the war is disrupting livelihoods throughout the region and beyond," they said.

Will energy prices explode?

Bulgaria, Baltic states kick out Russian diplomats

The Bulgarian foreign ministry declared 10 Russian diplomats "persona non grata" and demanded that they leave the country within 72 hours, accusing them of carrying out activities incompatible with their diplomatic status.

Bulgaria expelled two other Russian diplomats on March 2 amid allegations of espionage. On Monday, Slovakia kicked out three Russian embassy staff based on information from its secret service.

Bulgaria was Moscow's closest ally during the Cold War but has since joined both the EU and NATO.

The Baltic states also expelled a total of 10 Russian diplomats on Friday: three from Latvia and Estonia each and four from Lithuania.

"Latvia expels three Russian Embassy employees in connection with activities that are contrary to their diplomatic status and taking into account ongoing Russian aggression in #Ukraine. The decision has been coordinated with #Lithuania and #Estonia," Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics tweeted.

US slams Russian threats over Bosnian NATO membership

The US embassy in Sarajevo has called the "threats" made by the Russian ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina regarding the Balkan country's wish to join NATO "dangerous, irresponsible and unacceptable" in a Tweet.

Earlier in the week, ambassador Igor Kalabukhov said that if Bosnia "chooses to be a member of anything, that is its internal business. But there is another thing, our reaction."

"We have shown what we expect on the example of Ukraine. If there are threats, we will react," Kalabukhov added.

Bosnia has been split along ethnic lines since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 90s and was ravaged by a brutal war with Russia's close ally Serbia.

"We will continue to stand firmly by Bosnia and Herzegovina as it takes the necessary steps to secure its place in the Euro-Atlantic community of nations," the US embassy said on Thursday evening.

FIFA ban of Russian World Cup qualifiers upheld by Court of Arbitration

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld FIFA's ban on Russia from taking part in the playoffs for the 2022 World Cup finals over the invasion of Ukraine.

The Russian soccer federation wanted an urgent interim ruling to freeze the ban pending an appeal.

The CAS decision means Russia will not be able to play Poland in World Cup qualifying on Thursday.

FIFA declared Poland winners by walkover — a decision that is made when a team is disqualified — after Russia's suspension.

Poland, Sweden, and the Czech Republic said they would refuse to play against Russia before the suspension.

Earlier in the week CAS also rejected a Russian appeal to stay a suspension of its national teams and clubs by the European
body UEFA.

IEA says the world needs to cut oil use urgently

International Energy Agency urged the international community to cut oil use, warning that the world faced a massive supply crisis.

"As a result of Russia's appalling aggression against Ukraine, the world may well be facing its biggest oil supply shock in decades, with huge implications for our economies and societies," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said.

The IEA has announced a 10-point plan to cut oil use, including reducing highway speed limits by 10 kilometers per hour (6 miles per hour).

The IEA also called on the OPEC+ group of oil-producing nations to help "relieve the strain" on markets.

Russia is the largest exporter of oil to global markets and the second-largest crude oil exporter behind Saudi Arabia.

Several countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, have banned Russian oil imports.

Scholz tells Putin headway is needed in peace talks

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for an immediate cease-fire in Ukraine during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to his spokesman, Scholz pressed Putin to make progress in finding a diplomatic solution and told him the humanitarian situation needed to improve.

Putin blamed Ukraine for stalling the peace talks.

"It was noted that the Kyiv regime is attempting in every possible way to delay the negotiation process, putting forward more and more unrealistic proposals," the Kremlin said in a readout of the call.

The Russian leader also told his German counterpart they were doing everything possible to save the lives of civilians.

The call lasted just under an hour.

Lavrov warns West not to donate S-300 to Ukraine

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the state broadcaster RT that Russia wouldn't allow other countries to supply S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Ukraine. 

He repeated an earlier threat that Russian troops could target supplies of weapons to Ukraine.

S-300 missiles are high on Ukrainian demands from the West because they are designed to hit targets at higher altitudes.

On Thursday, Slovakia's defense minister, Jaroslav Nad, speaking alongside his US counterpart Lloyd Austin, said Bratislava is ready to send long-range surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine.

"The only strategic air defense system that we have in Slovakia is the S-300 system," Nad said.

He added Western allies give them a "proper replacement" to avoid creating a security gap.

Deadly shelling in several Ukrainian cities

One person was killed and several others injured when the Podil neighborhood of Kyiv was bombed.

The city's mayor Vitali Klitschko shared a video from the district saying, "The enemy continues to attack the capital." He said six buildings, including a preschool, were damaged in the attack.

In the eastern city of Kharkiv, the emergency services said one person was killed when a teaching building was struck.

Shells also hit the eastern city of Kramatorsk, killing two people and wounding six, according to Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.

Two million refugees cross into Poland

The Polish border guard has said that more than 2 million people have crossed from Ukraine into Poland since the Russian invasion began on 24 February.

The UN says more than 3.1 million refugees have fled the country in total.

Ukraine hopes to evacuate civilians through nine humanitarian corridors from cities and towns on Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk has said.

Kyiv and Russia have agreed on the routes at ongoing peace talks.

Ofcom revokes RT's broadcast license in the UK 

Britain's media regulator, Ofcom, has revoked Russian state broadcaster RT's license to broadcast in the UK with immediate effect.

"Freedom of expression is something we guard fiercely in this country, and the bar for action on broadcasters is rightly set very high," Ofcom Chief Executive Melanie Dawes said.

She said the decision was taken because it "appears impossible for RT to comply with the due impartiality rules" in its coverage of the war in Ukraine. 

Ofcom's decision is largely symbolic as RT has already been taken off air as a result of sanctions imposed in the EU.

Russia says they are fighting inside Mariupol 

Russian forces were fighting in the center of Mariupol, the Russian defense ministry said.

"In Mariupol, units of the Donetsk People's Republic, with the support of the Russian armed forces, are squeezing the encirclement and fighting against nationalists in the city center," the ministry said in Moscow.

By seizing the strategic port city, Russian President Vladimir Putin could create a corridor between Russia, the Donbas area, and Crimea and take full control of the Sea of Azov.

Mariupol has been besieged for weeks and has endured relentless shelling by the Russians.

On Wednesday, Mariupol's theater was destroyed during a bombardment. Russia denied striking it. Italy said it would rebuild it.

Airplane maintenance facility destroyed in Lviv

Several missiles hit an aircraft maintenance facility in Lviv, according to Mayor Andriy Sadovyi.

He wrote on Telegram work in the plant had stopped before the strike and no casualties were reported. A bus repair facility was also hit in the strike.

The Ukrainian air force's western command said the missiles that hit Lviv were launched from the Black Sea.

The city near the Polish border has been spared the worst of the Russian attacks so far.

However, last weekend, Russian troops launched multiple air raids on a large Ukrainian military facility outside the city, killing at least 35 people.

Japan and Australia announce additional sanctions against Russia

Australia and Japan on Friday increased the pressure on Russia by placing sanctions on individuals, banks and government organizations.

Canberra imposed sanctions on Moscow's Finance Ministry while adding 11 banks and government organizations, including the central bank, covering the majority of Russia's banking assets along with all entities that handle its sovereign debt.

"With our recent inclusion of the Central Bank of Russia, Australia has now targeted all Russian government entities responsible for issuing and managing Russia's sovereign debt," Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said in a statement.

Japan, meanwhile, said it would impose sanctions against 15 individuals and nine organizations, including defense officials and state-owned arms and dual-use technologies exporter Rosoboronexport

The sanctions, which include asset freezing, are the latest in a series of measures by Tokyo since Russia's February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Russia won't call for UN council vote on its Ukraine resolution

Russia announced it will not call for the UN Security Council to vote Friday on its draft resolution on humanitarian relief for Ukraine, which has been criticized for making no mention of the Kremlin's invasion of its neighbor.

The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, announced the change of plans in a separate session on Thursday called by western countries.

It will instead use the scheduled council session to repeat allegations that the United States has biological warfare laboratories in Ukraine. 

Washington has denied these claims, in turn alleging that they are part of a potential "false-flag operation" by Moscow.

Significant German military participation in new NATO project: DW's Simon Young

American soldiers alive, despite Russia claims, says US

Three current and previous members of the Tennessee National Guard were falsely identified as being killed in a Russian media report.

They are in fact alive and well, the Tennessee National Guard said on Thursday.

US President Joe Biden ordered the withdrawal of American troops from Ukraine ahead of Russia's invasion of the country.

But a report published in Russia's Pravda newspaper identified three Americans as being dead and gave military ranks for each of them, citing information from pro-Russian militia in Ukraine's Donetsk.

The story even offered a detailed explanation for how the three were identified, using items from a backpack "near the remains of one of the militants." Among the items was a Tennessee state flag, the report claimed.

"The Tennessee Guard is aware of the fake news coming out of Russia," said Tracy O'Grady, a spokesperson for the larger US National Guard.

The Tennessee Guard said in a statement: "They are accounted for, safe and not, as the article headline erroneously states, US mercenaries killed in Donetsk People's Republic."

Zelenskyy: Russia surprised by our determination

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia had been surprised by the resistance it has been met with since it began its invasion.

"This is our defense," he said in his nighttime video address to the nation. "When the enemy doesn't know what to expect from us. As they didn't know what awaited them after February 24," the day Russia invaded. "They didn't know what we had for defense or how we prepared to meet the blow."

He said Russia expected to find Ukraine much as it did in 2014, when it seized Crimea without a fight and backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region. But Ukraine is now a different country, with much stronger defenses, he said.

Summary of Thursday's events in Ukraine-Russia crisis

The EU said that potential "war crimes" in Ukraine would be investigated and prosecuted, joining top US figures in labeling Moscow's actions thus.

The search for survivors continued at the Mariupol theater, which was bombed on Wednesday, with Ukrainian lawmaker Dmytro Gurin telling DW that the attack was "deliberate."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the Bundestag, telling the German parliament that "help came too late to stop war." He also criticized the German government over its economic ties with Russia.

Local officials said shelling of the town of Merefa, outside the city of Kharkiv, killed at least 21 people and injured 25. 

Bilateral talks also continued between Russia and Ukraine, albeit with neither side saying very much publicly on Thursday.

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lo,jsi /kb,msh (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)